Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Whose Regeneration?

Words by Rachel Rose Reid. Photo: Sujata Aurora

Anyone wanting to live in a global city like London has to be a friend of change and diversity. Willesden Green is no exception and, as the annual Wassail demonstrated a fortnight ago, our neighbourhood can display plenty of vitality and creativity. This is an area open to newcomers, visitors, innovators and unafraid of development. The question is always: change and regeneration for whom, and for what purpose? The answer in Willesden Green and the rest of the Borough is all too often: for the benefit of greedy developers and naked profit. Books and beer seem to be a special bugbear of developers and their regenerator allies, as the Willesden Green, Cricklewood and Kensal Rise Libraries as well as the the Queensbury pub are targetted for luxury housing.

Political opponents have accused me and other Make Willesden Green supporters of negativity because of our ongoing criticism of the Willesden Green Library re-development. They don’t seem to get that we’re not against development as such, but in favour of a much more participatory, flexible and accountable ‘regeneration’. This is based on the simple principle that revenue should be raised from above – through progressive taxation by state and local authorities – and spent from below – by local residents who determine democratically the priorities for their neighborhoods. At least two such experiments in grassroots regeneration are now underway in Willesden Green. One is the Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) which, with strong and widespread resident participation, can become an instrument for the radical transformation of Willesden Green into an area that both preserves its past and builds its future as a socially mixed, publicly-oriented community. I am very pleased to be working with other Make Willesden Green supporters on the NDP as an experiment that demonstrates it is possible to engage in sustainable and democratic local development. The other, more established project is the Willesden Green Town Team. Formed by volunteer residents, the Town Team has made some positive changes to our neighbourhood, but we're still waiting on Brent Council to release the bulk of £80,000 allocated to our High Street so that various dormant proposals can be activated.

The real potential for grassroots regeneration will become evident over the coming months as Willesden Green’s own PopUp University is launched. I am especially happy that my own workplace, Birkbeck College, will be central to this enterprise, by offering talks, workshops and events for those in our area wanting to return to, or access Higher Education for the first time.

We are looking for volunteers to help run the Pop Up University, and also need spare tables, chairs and bookshelves to furnish Unit 12 of Queens Parade where the events will be held. So please contact me or the Chair of the Willesden Town Team, Elayne Coakes, if you can in any way contribute to this grassroots regeneration of Willesden Green.